Mexico project helps women

Jul 11, 2002, vol. 24, no. 6
By Carol Thorbes

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Women in Tijuana, Mexico are lining up to enroll in a one-of-a-kind community-based education project involving Simon Fraser University.

Only a year into a three-year project called Women, Poverty and Education in Mexico, 98 participants say the project is radically changing their lives, relationships and self-esteem.

“The project is a gift. The teaching is very dynamic but better still, it shows and teaches us to discover the gift that we are,” says one woman, Cecilia.
“Participating in this project is like putting a little seed that needs to be watered to germinate and grow with the help of the sun that gives us energy,” says Alicia, another participant.

Monica Escudero, a senior lecturer in SFU's Latin American studies (LAS) program and the project's academic liaison, obtained the comments while in Tijuana recently to participate in a workshop on participatory evaluation.

Participants of the Women, Poverty and Education in Mexico project took the workshop to learn how to evaluate their project.

SFU, through the LAS program and continuing studies, is running the project, along with Universidad Iberoamericana and Los Ninos de Baja California, a non-government organization (NGO), in Mexico.

The project's primary aim is to bridge a huge gap between basic and higher education for low-income women working as promotoras (community leaders) in Tijuana.

Initial enrolment surpassed the expected goal of 60 women, reaching more than 150 applicants.

Debbie Bell, SFU's director of community education in continuing studies and the project's director says the practicality and participatory nature of the project have made it a big draw.

Unlike traditional community-based education projects, this one isn't just about taking courses. The curriculum fosters development in four key areas: basic skills, human and social interaction, professionalism and complementary knowledge.

The participants develop in these areas by planning, executing and evaluating projects that they've chosen to benefit their communities.
“Adults learn best when they're involved in projects that are relevant to their everyday lives,” says Bell. “Especially if you live in poverty, it's difficult to concentrate on a project that isn't directly connected to your immediate needs.”

The participatory workshop in which Bell and Escudero just participated included 20 promotoras.

They practiced newly acquired powers of evaluation by creating drawings, skits and writings about how the Women, Poverty and Education in Mexico project is affecting their lives.

Their messages reflect their conflicting commitments.

“While there is a strong sense of accomplishment and solidarity among them, they also have to deal with forces working against them,” says Escudero. “They lack time to do their studies and in some cases familial support. The women's partners sometimes see their involvement in this project as a threat.”

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, which is managing this project on behalf of the project funder, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), sees this project as a groundbreaking model for community education and is studying it.

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